From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Jacob: from Heel-Grabber to God-Wrestler
PCUSA NEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
30 Dec 1999 20:06:36
Jacob: from Heel-Grabber to God-Wrestler
"Dawn ... an Epiphany" gets a unique version of ancient story
by Jerry L. Van Marter
INDIANAPOLIS-Theological education was never like this.
Blending solid Bible study and expository preaching with laser light
shows, loud rock and roll gospel music and hilarious dramatic depictions,
the Genesis story of Jacob came to life here Dec. 29 in a way those not
here could scarcely imagine.
"Let's get ready to ruuuummmmbbbblllle!!!" shouted a famous
professional wrestling announcer (appearing on audio tape) as actors
portraying Jacob and the angel streamed down the center aisle to stage the
all-night wrestling match recounted in Genesis 32. Meanwhile, "ringside"
announcers screamed hysterically about the "earth-changing bout" that was
about to take place.
It was all part of what Bible study leader the Rev. Houston Hodges,
former executive of North Alabama Presbytery and recently retired editor of
"Monday Morning" described as Jacob's conversion from self-absorbed
"heel-grabber" (the literal translation of his name from the Hebrew) to
faithful "God-wrestler" (translated from the name given to him by the angel
Hodges - at morning Bible study - and the evening preacher, the Rev.
Mary Paik of McCormick Theological Seminary, both reminded the nearly 3,000
participants at this millennium-turning celebration that "there's a little
bit of Jacob in all of us."
Accompaniment was provided by the Presbyterian "house band" - "First
Watch," a six-member group based in Tennessee and Texas. No hymnbooks
needed - lyrics to all songs were flashed on gigantic screens on either
side of the stage.
And a drama troupe from Portola Valley Presbyterian Church in San
Francisco Presbytery punctuated the story with hilarious live and
videotaped performances, featuring interviews with Jacob story characters
by "PSPN" reporter "No Nonsense Noelle," who in real life is Noelle
Goodman-Morris, daughter of the Revs. Mark and Cheryl Goodman-Morris. Mark
is pastor of the Portola Valley church and Cheryl is the creative force
behind the drama troupe. Noelle celebrated her 15th birthday at "the
Hodges recounted the machinations of Jacob to acquire, by hook or by
crook, that which belonged to his twin brother, Esau. Having gotten
wealthy using his brother's birthright in exile, Jacob returned home after
15 years, Hodges said, with a scheme to win back his brother with one last
misguided act - bribery.
After his all-night wrestling match with the supposed angel, Jacob
receives the angel's blessing and a new name - Israel ("God-wrestler").
"Jacob never knew whether he won or lost," Hodges said. "And that's
the way it is for us sometimes." All Jacob knew, Hodges added, "was that
he was changed forever, from a scheming, selfish "heel-grabber" (the
literal translation of the Hebrew Jacob) to one who instead holds on to God
for dear life and who is held eternally in return."
This is how it is with us, he told his youthful congregation. "You'll
wrestle with God, not knowing whether you're winning or losing. There are
traits in you that can be good or bad," Hodges cautioned, "grabbiness like
Jacob's. The question all of us must study hard and answer honestly is
`What is in there that God wants to use this week and the rest of your
lives for God's glory?'"
Paik, the first Korean-American woman ordained as a minister in the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the worship team adopted the moniker
"icky guy" for Jacob. "Jacob was an icky guy - telling little white lies
to get what he wants, playing a little office or school or church politics,
cheating just a little bit, putting himself ahead of what's right to get
what he wants," Paik said, "and when I look in the mirror, I see some of
Jacob in me."
And like Jacob, we also wrestle - with ourselves and with God, Paik
continued. "I see myself wrestling - with my conscience, when I ask why
even when I know the answer, when I have to make choices about how to live
The miracle, Paik said, "is that God is with us when we make these
choices, wrestling with us to get unstuck from the icky stuff."
Poignantly recounting hearing her mother talk of having her name
forcibly changed from Cho to Matsuyama during the Japanese occupation of
Korea, Paik said she, too, felt like Jacob at the point at which he
received his new name - "Israel." Her grandfather, she said, continued to
tell her mother, "You are Cho, no matter what anyone else says. Your real
name is Cho."
So it is with those who "wrestle with God to get unstuck from the icky
stuff," Paik said. "When you wrestle with God, as Jacob did when he
received the blessing of his real name, Israel, your real name is
God-lover, peace-maker, vision-seeker."
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